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KHN’s ‘What the Health?’: More Covid Complications for Congress

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The week that Dr. Anthony Fauci declared the pandemic part of covid-19 over was also the week Vice President Kamala Harris and two Democratic members of the Senate tested positive for the virus. That left Democrats without a working majority in the chamber, meaning another week without continued funding for federal anti-covid efforts.

Meanwhile, election-year politics continued to block efforts to advance any more of the Democrats’ health agenda, while opponents of the Affordable Care Act filed yet another lawsuit challenging a portion of the law, in this case the provision of preventive services at no out-of-pocket cost to patients.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner and Rebecca Adams of Kaiser Health News, Rachel Cohrs of STAT News, and Anna Edney of Bloomberg News.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

The recent report that most Americans have had covid — even if they don’t realize it — surprised a lot of people but may not change many habits. The assurance of vaccines, the growing availability of treatment options and increased immunity because more people have had an infection is providing the public some relief from concerns about the virus.But for people with compromised immune systems or parents of children too young to be vaccinated, the fear of covid is still front and center.Two Democratic senators — Ron Wyden of Oregon and Chris Murphy of Connecticut — and Vice President Harris are not able to go to Capitol Hill this week because they have tested positive for covid. That brings home again the stalemate over new federal funding for programs to fight the virus. That spending was deleted from a major spending bill in March when lawmakers couldn’t agree on the provision. Democrats pledged to bring it up again shortly, but a smaller version that has some bipartisan support has still failed to gain enough votes to be passed.One sticking point in Congress on the covid funding is that many Republicans want to bar the Biden administration from rescinding an immigration policy instituted by President Donald Trump. That policy used public health concerns to stop many people from coming across the Mexican border to the U.S.The clock is ticking on Capitol Hill for the many initiatives, plus traditional spending bills, lawmakers want to pass before Congress leaves to campaign for the midterm elections in the fall. There is much interest in whether the Biden administration and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) can strike a deal to resuscitate part of the president’s Build Back Better plan. Manchin said last year he couldn’t support the plan then being debated, and his objections tanked the bill. If they can agree on a proposal, it is expected to be smaller than what the administration originally sought, but Manchin has not made clear what he will accept.Any effort to move a revised Build Back Better package would likely have to be done before Congress takes off for its August recess, because the fall will be busy with election preparations.As the nation awaits a decision from the Supreme Court on a key abortion case, Planned Parenthood has announced plans for a major advertising campaign to alert voters to restrictions being implemented around the country.Former Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who died last weekend, is remembered for his work on health care and his ability to bridge partisan differences to craft important legislation. He generously made time to explain issues to reporters because he cared deeply about the policies.

Plus, for extra credit, the panelists recommend their favorite health policy stories of the week they think you should read too:

Julie Rovner: STAT News’ “He Had an M.D. and a Ph.D. but Didn’t Match Into a Residency. It Was the Push He Needed to Jump Into Health Tech,” by Tino Delamerced

Rebecca Adams: The New York Times’ “‘It’s Life or Death’: The Mental Health Crisis Among U.S. Teens,” by Matt Richtel

Rachel Cohrs: BuzzFeed News’ “The Private Equity Giant KKR Bought Hundreds of Homes for People With Disabilities. Some Vulnerable Residents Suffered Abuse and Neglect,” by Kendall Taggart, John Templon, Anthony Cormier, and Jason Leopold

Anna Edney: STAT News’ “The Doctor Who Is Trying to Bring Back Surprise Billing,” by Bob Herman.

Also discussed on this week’s podcast:

The Atlantic’s “There’s No Knowing What Will Happen When Roe Falls,” by Rachel Rebouché and Mary ZieglerKHN’s “Sen. Orrin Hatch’s Legacy Tracks the GOP’s Evolution on Health,” by Julie Rovner

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